Unity does not entail uniformity. Elder Dan Jackson, chair of the Seventh-day Adventist North American Division Executive Committee and NAD President, reiterated the importance of diverse perspectives.
Throughout my experience at the NAD Year-end Meetings, I was consistently reminded that God calls each of us to pursue the gospel commission. Even as influential, and sometimes disagreeing, leaders from the NAD gathered to advance the church, an atmosphere of respect transcended disagreement. Elder Jackson ensured that the body heard disparate voices when contradictions arose, confirming that God can use dissonance to achieve harmony. The agenda included important topics: NAD Headquarters relocation, the theology of ordination, the merging of the Review & Herald and Pacific Press, the official NAD sponsorship of Oakwood University, human sexuality, organizational reports, and strategic initiatives. I was one of over 200 delegates that convened to consider the direction of our church, enjoy dedicated fellowship, and decide on the executive direction of the NAD for the coming year.
Though the topics of ordination and human sexuality both have a tendency to be polarizing and provocative, discussions pertaining to both topics at the Year-end Meetings displayed the NAD’s thoughtful and prayerful approach to controversy. Acknowledged as an area of concern, the NAD administration assigned a team of theologians to study the topic of ordination. The North American Division Biblical Research Committee, composed of fourteen scholars, worked to articulate a biblical understanding of ordination. The committee condensed their work into a more than two hundred page report that outlined their recommendation on where the Division should stand. The NAD Executive Committee voted strongly in favor of a motion to receive the committee’s report:
That we receive the biblical study of ordination prepared by the North American Division Theology of Ordination Study Committee and affirm the conclusion that all people, men and women, may receive ordination as an affirmation of the call of God, and that the North American Division support the authorization of each division to consider, through prayer and under the direction of the Holy Spirit, its most appropriate approach to the ordination of women to gospel ministry.”
The vote approved and recommended the BRC’s report to the General Conference.
Similar to the deliberately contemplative approach to the question of theology, the NAD voted to commit to further understanding the topic of sexuality in the context of the church and the Bible. In hopes of maintaining a respectful, Christ-like environment for sensitive subjects as these, the NAD adopted a statement of civil discourse. This statement establishes guidelines “to govern … communication according to the high standards of Christian conduct…”
I commend the administration of the NAD for encouraging civility and respect from first discussions through final decisions.
Elder Jackson, whose term as NAD president began in 2010 and ends this year, introduced strategic initiatives to intentionally identify and counteract institutional shortcomings. Over the last four years, the NAD confronted key issues at the Conference, Union, and Division levels, and I was blessed to be present to hear of progress as a result of intentionality. The NAD’s identified six “Building Blocks”: Transformational Evangelism, Young Adult Life, Emerging Immigrant Populations, Adventist Learning Community (ALC), Women in Pastoral Ministry, and Media/Social Media. Each project reported remarkable growth and offered the potential for so much more. It was invigorating to witness devotion and passion directed to such different needs within our church.
Alongside other notable items on the agenda, I am pleased to report that, for the first time, the NAD has granted permanent NAD Executive Committee voice and vote to student association presidents from colleges and universities within the NAD. The NAD Executive Committee is the highest ranking voice in the North American Division, one of the thirteen divisions that make up the General Conference. The decision is a recognition of and response to the calls and prayers of young adults to be heard within the church. It is not only a pivotal move that grants younger generations a significant role in church leadership, it is also a definitive leap towards informing executive agendas of the diverse cultures, attitudes, aspirations, beliefs, and needs of young adults via responsible representation. As the first young adult representatives, we were called to contribute frequently throughout the meetings. My peers and I were more than happy to oblige. I am truly privileged to be one of the first officially recognized full delegates and have cherished the experience of collaborating to pursue God’s will in achieving the mission of the Seventh-day Adventist church.
As Student Body President of Walla Walla University, Timothy Barbosa was among the student delegates with voice and vote at the 2014 North American Division Year-end Meetings.